On January 1, 2013, California Code of Civil Procedure Section 2025.290
will become effective limiting plaintiff depositions in most civil cases
to no more than seven (7) hours over two days, or 14 hours of total testimony.
Previously there were no state-wide statutory limits on the length of plaintiff
depositions. This omission in the law often allowed defense counsel to
subject plaintiffs to prolonged and repetitive questioning, causing undue
stress and exhaustion.
The new law was motivated by the plight of
John Johnson, a 68 year-old veteran of the U.S. Marines and retired plumber who was
diagnosed with mesothelioma and filed a lawsuit against the companies
responsible for his asbestos exposure in October 2011. In the case, we
presented a declaration from Dr. Robert Cameron
imploring the court to limit Mr. Johnson’s deposition to 12 hours, as Mr. Johnson was
a stage III patient who had just emerged from an 11 hour
surgery and was undergoing post-surgery
radiation. Dr. Cameron warned the court that interrogation in excess of 12 hours
would “hasten his demise.” The court limited the deposition
to 20 hours but later granted another 5 hours over our objections and
a second declaration from Dr. Cameron.
The deposition began on December 19, 2011 and, after 10 sessions conducted
over 35 days, was concluded on January 23, 2012. As predicted by Dr. Cameron,
the rigors of the process produced a dramatic decline in Mr. Johnson’s
condition. Knowing that unless he completed the mandated 25 hours,
none of his testimony could be used in the lawsuit which would be his wife
Sue’s only source of financial support, Mr. Johnson could not be
deterred from finishing the job. Mr. Johnson passed away less than 24
hours after completing the deposition.
This unfathomable, but not unanticipated, result was a rallying call for
Worthington& Caron, P.C. and other plaintiffs’ attorneys who
had long sought to impose reasonable limits on defense deposition questioning.
Working together with the support of Mr. Johnson’s wife, Sue Johnson,
the effort gained media attention and finally the support of key California
lawmakers. The measure was passed by the California legislature on August
29, 2012 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 17, 2012.
As 2012 comes to an end, we reflect back on the tragic events involving
John Johnson and extend our warmest and sincerest wishes to his family
as they spend their first Holiday season without him. We hope they find
some satisfaction in knowing that their government took notice of their
nightmare and acted quickly and decisively to keep other Californians
from enduring it in the future.
Section 2025.290 is a long-overdue measure which provides a defense to
the basic civil liberties of
asbestos cancer patients and other seriously injured plaintiffs. These are people for
whom time is precious. They want to get well. They can’t work. They
have mounting bills. They weren’t looking for a lawsuit but, like
John Johnson, have no other potential source of financial resources. We
applaud the California legislature and Governor Brown for the protections
that injured plaintiffs will get to begin enjoying in the New Year!